Sewing more thoughtfully

When I started sewing, it was just something fun to fill the odd spare afternoon. I never imagined it would become such a big part of my life, influencing everything from how I spend my spare time (sewing, obviously) to how I shop.

I’ve never really been into fast fashion – if I love an item of clothing, I’ll wear it until it falls apart – and now that I sew a lot of my own clothes I rarely shop. Recently, though, I’ve been starting to think about sewing as another form of consumption. I don’t need to sew – if I stopped sewing today, I would still have more than enough clothes. Similarly, if I stopped buying fabric today, I would have enough to sew myself an entire wardrobe of new outfits (and then some, judging by the current state of my fabric stash – but more on that later).

And yet, I’m not going to stop sewing. Obviously, this is mainly because I enjoy the making process itself as much as I enjoy wearing the finished garment – learning new skills is as important to me as the final outcome. But I’ve come to realise that I have been mindlessly buying fabric and patterns almost as much as I once bought cheap clothes.

I’ve bought fabric that realistically I would never wear (or, at least not very often) just because I liked the print; fabric I love but have no plans for sewing with anytime soon; and patterns for swishy 50s dresses that definitely aren’t my style but I’ve bought because I like the cover artwork (please tell me I’m not the only one who has done this). It’s all too easy to scroll through blogs and social media and feel like I should be sewing more, buying more, and sharing more – which, ironically, is exactly what I don’t like about fast fashion. This is especially true when every sewing blogger in the world seems to be sewing the latest cult pattern and I’m still making the same tried-and-tested favourites that I love to wear but aren’t always that interesting to blog about.

I also feel slightly ashamed to think about all the lovely fabrics that I could be wearing but are instead piled up in a basket next to my sewing desk. I recently made a list of all the fabrics in my stash and found that I had enough to make at least 20 garments, probably more.

We’re now five months into 2018 and I’ve finished two makes on my sewing list so far (they don’t call it slow fashion for nothing, right?). If I continue sewing at the same rate, I’ll make about four new garments this year, which means I’ll still have 16 left to make from my current stash if I don’t buy any more fabric in 2018. Basically, my fabric stash could last me at least a couple of years easily.

It’s taken me way too long to realise that I can’t sew as quickly as I can shop, but I’m also still working on honing my ideas into a realistic sewing list. My to-sew list seems to change constantly, so I end up planning my projects too far in advance; I buy fabric and patterns for summer clothes in November, and then, when summer finally arrives, my tastes have changed and I want to sew and wear something else.

And it’s not just the amount of fabric I own that’s been giving me the guilt – it’s the type of materials, too. I’ve read a few articles lately about the microfibres in synthetic fabrics, and would like to switch to using more natural fibres in my sewing; unfortunately, though, most of my current stash is synthetic.

This presents a dilemma: do I recycle/destash the lot and start over, or keep sewing with it and vow to buy more eco-friendly fabrics in future? It’s something I’m still undecided on: for now I’m sewing with my stash as it feels like such a waste not to, but it also means I’ll be contributing to the micro-fibre problem everytime I wash those me-mades.

I’m not going to pretend I won’t buy any more fabric or patterns, but I am going to try and achieve more of a balance between what I want to sew, what’s sustainable, what I like to wear, and what I realistically have time to make.

Further reading:

  • Join the Fashion Revolution, campaigning for a fair deal for the people around the world who make our clothes.
  • Admire the amazing thrifting skills of blogger Paloma in Disguise, who shares snaps of her impressive secondhand wardrobe, and a few DIY ideas too.
  • This guide from Megan Nielsen has some great advice for taking a more responsible approach to buying fabrics.
  • For ethical fashion inspo and thoughtful articles, look to Tolly Dolly Posh – a teen blogger taking on the world of fast fashion one stylish thrifted outfit at a time.

 

 

 

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A sewing hiatus (or how to sew when you can’t sew)

As the saying goes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone – in my case, I didn’t know I loved my tiny sewing space in the corner of the bedroom until we moved.

Yes, it was small. And, yes, I got threads and tiny bits of fabric all over the bed. But I haven’t had a sewing space to call my own since, and so I can’t help but miss that messy little corner.

As we’ve still got a living room and dining room to paint (and our new cat/sewing helper is currently living in what should be my sewing room), I haven’t even had so much as a sewing desk since we moved in in June – until, that is, I decided that enough was enough and I was no longer content with scrolling through Instagram for sewing inspiration while my machine was packed away. I just had to sew.

So, I shifted a desk into the only room in our house that isn’t totally chaotic: the kitchen. And even though all I had time to do was mark and pin darts, and even though the location was far from ideal (although I do have easy access to the kettle and biscuits, so it’s not all bad), it was such a relief to be making again.

Since then, I’ve even managed to add the facing (I know, I’m on fire). Mostly, though, I’ve learned that slow slowing is ok – as long as I’m sewing, that’s all that matters. My how-to-sew-when-you-can’t-sew top tips:

Just get on with it. I like to give sewing my full attention (mostly to avoid those annoying mistakes you make when you’re tired, like sewing a sleeve on inside out), but waiting for the ‘perfect’ time to sew is a one-way trip to unfinished project island. Instead, I try to fit in small bursts of sewing, like pinning a hem while I’m cooking dinner. All these little tasks add up to a finished garment, so try not to lose heart with slow progress.

Be organised. If you don’t have the luxury of a sewing space, you’ll have to get smart with storage. Since being sewing-room-less, I’ve started keeping everything I need for my current projects – fabric, patterns, tools, threads – in one tote bag next to my machine for speedy sewing, and the rest of my fabric stash in a vacuum storage bag (it’s amazing how much you can fit in those things – I can almost pretend my fabric stash isn’t enough for several years’ worth of sewing projects).

Adjust your thinking. Ironically for someone who sews as slowly as I do, I can be rather impatient, so the fact that it’s taken me over a month to finish the Sorbetto top – basically the simplest sewing pattern in the world – is KILLING ME. Having said that, it helps to adjust your mindset and enjoy the process rather than thinking so much about the finished garment. I’m still working on this.

Choose wisely. If you’re finding it tricky to fit sewing in around other things in your life, it’s probably not the best time to start that ballgown you’ve always dreamed of making, or a last-minute summer skirt you’ll have to make right-now-this-minute to stand any chance of wearing this year. So, I’ve moved any tricky and non-seasonal-appropriate projects onto my ‘would like to sew someday’ list, and am instead picking makes that are achievable and quick so I don’t feel too overwhelmed (I’m aiming for just whelmed, 10 Things I Hate About You-style).

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Spring/summer sewing moodboard

When I started sewing, I didn’t think too much about the longevity of the garments I was making; I never considered whether I’d want to wear them in a year’s time, a few years’ time, or even a month’s time – I just made them for the fun of it.

Which is, of course, totally fine (we sew because it’s fun, right?), but taking this unplanned approach meant that I ended up with a wardrobe full of me-mades that didn’t go together, didn’t particularly fit my style or life, and therefore didn’t get worn very often. Not great after spending hours at my sewing machine stitching them.

So, inspired by this post by Heather at Closet Case Patterns and this post from Randomly Happy, I’ve put together a moodboard of my favourite prints and styles for spring and summer to make sure I don’t get distracted by all the fabric prettiness and sew something I’ll never wear (no promises, though).

The styles…

From left to right: image 1image 2image 3image 4image 5image 6

From left to right: image 7image 8image 9image 10

Oh, how I wish my wardrobe looked like this moodboard (come to think of it, I wish I looked like the ladies in this moodboard).

Although these styles aren’t exactly what I would wear (the top left image is too strappy and revealing for me, and the top right image is a bit too, erm, babygro for my liking, although I can imagine it looking amazing on someone taller), there are a few elements I’d like to steal:

  • Square and boat necklines.
  • Boxy, loose-fit silhouettes.
  • Mid-length, floaty skirts.
  • Statement sleeves (along with everyone else in the world at the moment).

I’ll be starting with the Tilly Dominique skirt I began making last summer and never finished in a crepe (see below for deets) from FC Fabric Studio (all I need now is a stripey top, a tan, and much, much longer legs, and I’ll be well on my way to looking like the gal in image 3…).

And, because I can’t possibly sew everything, I’ll also be on the lookout for vintage denim pieces and a new wear-with-everything biker jacket.

The fabrics…

From left to right: image 1image 2image 3image 4

To make sure I’ll want to wear my me-mades for a long time to come, I’ll be sewing them up in classic stripes, plains in quality fabrics, and modern, graphic prints (which I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of).

Not the most summery fabrics I’ll admit, but I’ve come to realise that brights and florals just aren’t really my thing. Plus, my summer wardrobe is basically my winter wardrobe without tights and layers, so I like to make things I can wear all year round (rather than only on the few sunny days we get here in the UK).

I’m going to try to sew from my sizeable stash as much as possible, so I’m hoping to finally get this rust crepe from FC Fabric Studio (image 1), stripe double jersey from Montreaux Fabrics (image 2) and grid print from Fabrics Galore (image 3) made up into garments (I’ve had them in my stash for MONTHS and I’d very much like to wear them now, please).

Having said that, I am currently lusting after this gorgeous hand-woven ikat from Offset Warehouse (image 4), so I might just have to make an exception and treat myself to a couple of metres.

So, now I have my moodboard sorted. All I have to do now is sew everything before the British summer is over. Which probably gives me about 4 days…

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5 rookie sewing mistakes I made (so you don’t have to)

A big part of learning to sew is making mistakes, getting the unpicker out and starting again – and you’ll still need to keep that unpicker handy whether you’ve been sewing for ten months or ten years, as there are always new skills to learn (and fail at).

We sewists are a tough bunch, though, and however many times we have a #sewingfail, our obsession with stitching never falters. So, to celebrate resilience in the face of wonky seams, I’m sharing a few of my embarrassing newbie mistakes. Here’s to getting it wrong, and trying again!1. Using the incorrect needle for the job. I didn’t really know that different machine needle types were a thing when I first started sewing, which, as I’m sure you can imagine, led to lots of snapped needles, a few ruined fabrics and a whole lot of frustration. Sewing through layers of denim with a universal needle is not a good idea, FYI. For your safety and sanity, stock up on lots of different machine needle types and thicknesses and change your needle regularly.

2. Picking the wrong fabric. Matching the right pattern to the right fabric is a skill, and, while I still don’t always get it spot on, I’d like to think I’m much better at it than I used to be. My Colette Taffy blouse is a case in point – the pattern is meant for floaty chiffon, but, newbie stitcher that I was, I decided to make it in a beautiful paisley print cotton with very little drape.

I loved the sewing pattern, I loved the fabric, but just not together. Although I was proud of it at the time (I think it was only my third or fourth finished garment), it ended up unworn at the back of my wardrobe and I’ve since given it to the charity shop. The moral of this sad story is: use the pattern’s suggested fabrics until you feel more confident with your fabric know-how.

3. Ignoring notches and other pattern markings. It seems I was, shall we say, an over-confident (read: cocky) beginner sewist, as I basically ignored all notches and winged it for my first few sewing projects – to quote a certain pirate film, I thought notches were guidelines for people who have no idea what they are doing. Which, ironically, was me. And then I wondered why I ended up sewing the wrong pattern pieces together. Notches and pattern markings are there for a reason. They are your friends. Don’t ignore them!

4. Not checking my measurements. For my first couple of projects, I chose my pattern sizing based on the clothing size I usually am in high street shops – which, given the high street’s penchant for inconsistent sizing, is just asking for trouble. Just like the high street shops, each pattern brand will draft their designs using a different block, so you may find that the size you need to cut out often varies – you may even need to grade between sizes for a perfect fit. Always check the size chart against your measurements before you cut out your pattern, even if it’s a pattern brand you’ve used before, as sizing can vary within brands – I also find it useful to measure the pattern itself, too. Eventually, you may even find the sewing holy grail: a pattern brand that fits your measurements to a tee (mine is Tilly and the Buttons. Hurrah!).5. Not pressing enough. In a similar fashion to my flagrant disregard for notches, I just couldn’t understand what the big deal was about pressing. It seemed so boring to spend my precious sewing time pressing seams. And what difference does it make anyway? Erm, quite a bit, actually. I have learned this the hard way, with finished projects that look far from professional with bulky unpressed seams and hems. Plus, pressing is actually strangely satisfying to do (just make sure you use a pressing cloth on delicate fabrics – learned that the hard way, too).

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Winter sewing shortlist

Sometimes it seems like the sewists I follow on social media have a secret magic watch that stops time so they can sew up a whole wardrobe of amazing dresses before breakfast, then skip off to work and get on with the rest of their day (wearing an amazing handmade dress from said wardrobe, obvs).

And then there’s me, just about managing to make a simple stripe tee over the course of a couple of weeks, snatching 20-30 minutes of sewing time here and there. I don’t even count myself as particularly busy, but somehow time just speeds by and I realise that the ‘quick project’ I’ve been working on has taken me over a month to complete. In fact, one such quick project, the Tilly Dominique skirt I started making at the end of summer from a lovely rust-coloured crepe from FC Fabric Studio, will probably have to wait until next spring to be finished as winter has well and truly arrived. Sob. Continue reading “Winter sewing shortlist”